x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Military says fighting kills 65

COLOMBO // Sri Lankan forces pushed deep into the northern heartland of ethnic Tamil rebels, killing 56 of them in ferocious fighting that also killed seven soldiers, while police killed two rebels in the east, the military said yesterday. The wave of battles across the north on Sunday came amid a new government offensive against the Tamil Tiger rebels. In recent weeks, troops seized control of huge areas of land the rebels had controlled for years and threatened to overrun the separatists' administrative capital in the town of Kilinochchi. The government has vowed to crush the rebels, capture their de facto state and end the civil war in this Indian Ocean island nation by the end of the year.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa, on a trip to New York for this week's annual UN gathering of world leaders, said the government felt it was forced to fight to free the civilians living under rebel rule. "We are not a government that is committed to military action. We do not believe in battle," he said on Sunday evening, according to a government statement. The worst of Sunday's fighting took place in the Kilinochchi district, where government forces were poised just 5½km from the town of Kilinochchi, the military said. A total of 38 rebels and seven soldiers were killed in fighting there throughout the day, the military said.

Another 18 rebels were killed in fighting in Welioya and Vavuniya, the military said. Police in Ampara in the east, which was captured from the rebels a year ago, ambushed a group of rebels and killed two of them, the military said. The rebel-allied TamilNet website reported heavy fighting and artillery bombardments on Sunday, but did not provide casualty figures. Independent verification of the fighting and casualties was not possible because most journalists are banned from the war zone.

The fighting has sent tens of thousands of civilians fleeing deeper into rebel-held territory for safety. - Associated Press